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Drake gazed at the cloud smattered turquoise orb on the screen. With his young friend Alex safely relaxing below on the holiday planet Kantra, he and the SEACC could hang in orbit for a while. As he climbed from his command seat, the screen reabsorbed into the ceiling. What he was about to do, he had to do alone. He stood in the control room holding the small golden homing sphere in his hand. Back on Earth he had told Gillian to use it should she ever need him. Inside would be a holographic image, a visual recording of the moments unfolding around her. They would be the moments before she squeezed and released it and sent it on its way through time and space. He was almost afraid to discover its contents.
With arm outstretched, he squeezed the sphere then opened his fist. The orb rested on his upturned palm, opening like a lotus bloom, allowing the holographic image to unfold. Explosions, screaming, destruction and torrential rain. The sort of scene he'd witnessed a hundred times before while collecting data for the Elders of his planet. But that was when he was pure Viranian, unaffected by human emotions. Now it was different. Gillian was involved.
Where was she? He studied the scene closely, eyeing every detail. Then he saw her, crouched in the mud, huddling with others. The beautiful Earthling he knew and dare he admit— loved, almost unrecognisable in the filth. He could see a grey mountain in the background, a giant of a volcano, in full violent eruption. Huge clouds of deadly lightning filled ash, plumed skyward behind the frightened group.
It was Gillian's voice. "Help us Drake. Please help us. We're on Xyrania somewhere near Jalara. I don't know exactly where. They're coming…"
The message ended abruptly.
In a state of shock, Drake staggered back into his command seat. He held the sphere out and watched the message again. He studied the landscape intently, trying to get an idea of where they were in relation to the volcano. Visual was good but he needed more. He closed the sphere and pushed it into a hole that appeared on the arm of his command seat. CC absorbed the sphere and proceeded to analyse its data. The screen again emerged from the ceiling showing the recorded holographic images. Scrolling up the side was all the information Drake needed.
The year Gillian had sent it was 2360. Four Earth years after he had given her the sphere. In the message she had told him she was near Jalara on Xyrania. Why had she gone there? He knew she held a claim to a malidnium mine on the planet— the mine her husband had been murdered for. Perhaps she had resumed her work as a geologist. Anyway, first things first.
He placed his long fingers into the hand indents on the arms of his seat and mentally instructed CC to travel back to Xyrania in 2360. His Companion Craft could calculate the time and place from the small sphere she had absorbed and would narrow it down to within a 24 hour window. They would arrive as close as possible to the moment Gillian had released it and as near as possible to her geographical location.
Drake pulled his hands from the indents and climbed from his command seat. As luck would have it, he was already in the same quadrant of the Equus 3 galaxy and from his calculations, the journey would only take a couple of hours. He took down his grey sleeveless vest from a peg on the wall. No longer in use, the peg melted back into the smooth silver surface.
Drake held out his hand and a plume of silvery floor matter reached up then spread out to form a table. A swivel seat shaped itself in the same manner. He placed the vest on the table and sat down. He then began to methodically pull out and test the small specially designed tools from the pockets on the front of the vest. The instruments were one of a kind, given to him by the Elders on Virania to help him carry out his duties. Satisfied they were all in working order he replaced them into their respective pockets. He stood up, shrugged into his vest then sat down again.
Once he would have been happy with his own company but things were different now. For many years he had gathered missing pieces of history for the Elders without ever feeling lonely or the need for company but since meeting Gillian on K57 and Alex on Tritan and spending time with them, he had changed. He meditated on their joint visits to Tarl, Tritan, Uraami and Eavarti. Throughout their travels he had become used to human company but now that very interaction with the aliens had begun to affect him.
He stared at his hands, turning them over. Though his exterior looked human, on the inside his physiology remained Viranian but a certain humanness had begun to invade his thoughts and he had started to experience unwanted human emotions. Long ago when he had chosen form for his work, of the many available to him, he had chosen human, not only for its versatility but for its pleasing appearance.
He glanced thoughtfully around the silvery control room. His ship had been his home for a very long time. The powerful healing influence of CC kept his body looking a young 38 but in reality he was centuries old. He fingered the meldkey on his wrist, the device that not only enabled him to enter and exit his ship but relayed information back to CC when he was on a mission. She in turn relayed it on to Virania for the Elders. The meldkey was his link, his lifeline to his ship. It even warned him if he had been away from his ship's influence for too long. He was glad the Elders had improved his three day limit. At least now he would still retain his human form, albeit in a weakened state, if he was away for any longer than three days.
Before CC's recent upgrade, his human form would have begun to deteriorate if he spent more than 72 hours away from her life giving influence, something he was helpless to do anything about. He would have reverted back to his energy form and he would have hated that. He had become attached to his Earthling like appearance.
Drake rubbed his brow, annoyed by the fact he was thinking way too much. He stood up then walked to the small galley off the control room. He placed his hand on the replicator panel and instantly a mug of steaming tea and a salad sandwich appeared on a plate— an odd alien meal he had come to enjoy. He carried them back to the table then sat down. As he sipped the brew, loneliness engulfed him. He tried to shake off the emptiness as he ate his sandwich but it lingered. His empty feeling had nothing to do with food. He missed Alex's company. He missed Gillian even more. This wasn't how it was meant to be. When he was pure Viranian, situations such as this would never have affected him. He pushed the disturbing human feelings to the back of his mind.
His meal finished, he took his plate and mug to the galley. There he threw them into the recycling chute and watched it swallow them. One of the marvels of Viranian advanced technology. With CC's ability to turn anything into anything, nothing was ever wasted. He checked his meldkey, and calculated they would soon be approaching Xyrania. He walked back into the control room then climbed into his command seat. The table and swivel chair, no longer in use, melted back into the floor.
Drake placed his hands into the indents and mentally activated the scanner. Right on time. Xyrania hung in the blackness of space— a spherical blue-green opal.
White wisps of cloud cradled the planet but cutting through them like a dirty knife, streaked a dark ominous mass of grey— ash from the erupting volcano.
The giant cloud covered an area hundreds of miles square. Volcanic ash could pose a problem for CC. It may well prevent them from landing close to Jalara. He instructed CC to land as close as possible to their rendezvous point upwind from the volcano.
Drake initiated his ship's cloaking device as they burst through the atmosphere. Better to arrive undetected than attract unwanted attention. He pulled his hands from the indents and the screen, no longer required, once more reabsorbed into the ceiling.
As CC touched the surface, the Viranian climbed from his command seat. The subtle vibrations beneath his feet ceased, as his ship powered down. She would remain on stand by and in contact until he returned.
It was now up to him to find Gillian as quickly as possible. His biggest fear was he would be too late.